Archive for Sunday, June 25, 2006

Territorial Days celebrates town’s role in U.S. history

June 25, 2006


Gunshots rang Saturday from one side of the battlefield, then the other. Here, 150 years ago, men like these fired real bullets at one another across this prairie grass.

Here, a war was born.

"It's a celebration of our history," volunteer organizer Paul Bahnmaier said of the staged battle at Lecompton Territorial Days. "It had a major impact on this nation."

The Lecompton Territorial Days celebration sends the community back to a time when Kansas was bleeding the first drops of blood between brothers - back when men drew the battle lines that would persist throughout the Civil War.

All weekend, the Lecompton Reenactors captured both the characters and sentiments of a wild Kansas 150 years ago. They staged the Battle of Fort Titus, put on political meetings and re-introduced the city's Constitution Hall - which was, at the time, a business owned by Sheriff Sam Jones.

Jones had a big role in the violence of the day, and re-enactor Edward Hoover took pride in portraying the lawman who helped round up freestaters.

Hoover - who also portrays a couple of free state characters - said that in many ways, history has handed Jones a bad rap. He was just a lawman, defending the laws of the times, Hoover said.

6News video

Sights and sounds from the Lecompton Territorial Days Enlarge video

For Hoover, his defense of Jones mirrors the community's defense of their history here.

Sure, the politics of the time weren't pretty, Hoover admits. But Lecompton has to take pride in what it really was: A city with a pro-slave government filled with people representing both sides of the Lincoln-Douglas debate.

"They've gotten a black eye from this," said Hoover, who has lived in both Lawrence and Lecompton. "But we tell it the way the community was."

So as the faux-battle ranged on, the shouts from the actors spoke volumes about the history of the area.

"Do you have that old John Brown with you?" one pro-slave re-enactor yells before firing off a rifle full of black powder.

"States' rights! Succession! Slavery forever!" another yells from the doomed cabin of Henry Titus.

The battle here represented the final frontier for pro- and anti-slavery forces to win a state in their favor.

Hoover understands who won. And he understands that in today's eyes, the argument seems ludicrous in most people's eyes.

But for one weekend in Lecompton, the community gathers to understand its heritage, if not embrace it outright.

"It's a small community, a proud community," Hoover said. "Even if you do not approve of it, you have to accept the fact that your community was pro-slavery."

Out on the battlefield, the free state troops closed in on the last few men in Titus' group. The cannon boomed from across the battlefield, sending a smoke ring crawling from its barrel.

It's all over now. A white flag appears from an open cabin window.

Defeat hung in the air like wisps of gunpowder. Everything about the actors' motions said: We have lost.

From the sidelines, the audience cheered. It was a show of support, a show of community. Sometimes, Hoover said, that's what it means to be from Lecompton.

"Some people look at it as we were the underdogs," he said. "They were just another group who were fighting for their rights."


Kelly Powell 11 years, 11 months ago

Wow! They still are? And john brown was just a nice guy who happened to collect heads.

mztrendy 11 years, 11 months ago

Really reality_check? Do you know many people from Lecompton? You're awful quick to judge so many people you don't know.

Christine Pennewell Davis 11 years, 11 months ago

I guess he did not get the history part. Bavk to school with you.

LJWJohn 11 years, 11 months ago

Anonymous-1 8:52am What an ignorant statement to make. It is minds like yours that creates the problems our country has. Get educated or get off!!!

tweetybird2 11 years, 11 months ago

I live in Lecompton and am very strongly against slavery. Reality_check needs to come to Lecompton and get to know the people.

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